Review: Thunderstruck

A haunting ode to an unconventional piper

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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Photo by Sean De Francesco
Published 25 Aug 2023

Returning to the festival where it won a Herald Angel award and built its considerable reputation as a modern commercial hit of Scottish theatre, writer and performer David Colvin’s Thunderstruck is a strong antidote to the art of bagpiping as the preserve of Princes Street bagpipers in regalia. 

Instead, Colvin tells of the tragic artistry of real-life piper Gordon Duncan, who played with greats including Dougie MacLean and the Tannahill Weavers, but was sadly found dead at his Perthshire home in 2005 at the age of just 41, after a life battling alcoholism. 

Colvin uses a version of his own story as the lens through which Duncan is seen, so we follow him from his youth in Fife, where his “grumpy cunt” of a music teacher (the use of the ‘c’ word in Fife dialect as a term of affection or simple address is explored, to entertaining effect) introduces him to the bagpipes in school. 

Young ‘Dov’ is hooked, and we’re taken through youthful tales of bullying and triumph as a member of the Lochgelly High School pipe band. Along the way, the audience is introduced to the simple nine-note structure from which all bagpipe tunes are composed, and the “dot, dot, cut” rhythm – as performed by their own stamps and claps – which underpins the bagpipe drone. 

Then Duncan, the nondescript “bin man”, is introduced as a figure of unexpected marvel, who broke all the rules to make music “filled with unfulfillable longing”. When Colvin and his band strike up the interpretation of AC/DC’s 'Thunderstruck' we’ve all been waiting for at the end, the audience’s understanding of the bagpipes as an instrument is transformed.